April 13, 2005

SPRINGFIELD (April 13)—Overcoming fierce and determined resistance from the railroad industry, H.B. 2449 passed the Illinois House this afternoon after state representatives were inundated by phone calls and visits from railroad employees protesting company interference with their medical treatment after workplace accidents

“This is not just a victory for our members—this is a victory BY our members,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“It was the members’ phone calls and personal visits to their lawmakers that got the job done,” Szabo said. “If our members had not personally told their state reps how their employers had delayed, denied or interfered with their medical treatment, the House vote could have been much different.”

In fact, Szabo said, railroad industry partisans in the House made a determined effort to derail the bill in a floor debate he characterized as “chaotic.”

“It was easy to confuse the Representatives with the chaotic debate,” Szabo said. “Fortunately, so many UTU members already had called or visited their state reps and asked them to support HB 2449–or shared a real-life story of medical treatment being interfered with–that a majority of the members of House were immunized against the railroads’ arguments. Because of those phone calls, we picked up a dozen Republican votes.

“That did the trick,” Szabo said. The final vote was 72 ‘Yes,’ 41 ‘No’ and 3 ‘Present.’”

Szabo was lavish in his praise for Assistant Legislative Director John Burner, the union’s regular presence in the State House.

“John never left his post,” Szabo said. “He kept visiting those state reps in their offices and pounding those long, hard marble corridors until it got to the point where he returned to his hotel room every night with his feet just aching. Fortunately, he had Alternate Legislative Director Bob Guy there – just as determined – to assist him. Bob and John made a tremendous team.”

Szabo also praised State Rep. Eddie Washington (D-North Chicago), the only UTU member in the General Assembly, for his “passionate” arguments in favor of H.B. 2449 in today’s fierce floor debate.

“Eddie knows this issue as no other member of the House does–from the railroad employee’s side,” Szabo said. “His experience made a compelling case that the industry’s opposition simply could not overcome.”

But Szabo said H.B. 2449 will require even more member activism in order to pass the Senate.

“The railroads are just now realizing what they are up against,” he said. “They may be reeling from this defeat, but within a day they are going to redouble their efforts and fire up the spin machine and make sure all its bells and whistles are in full working order.

“That means we have to be ready to reach out to our senators with even more ammunition than we fired in the House campaign—more phone calls, more e-mails and more personal visits from more members. The membership effort in the House was great. It will have to be even better in the Senate. The stakes are that high. Are you willing to do what it takes to win?”